Elliptical trainers are exercise machines that mimic the motion of running without the strain on your joints, so if you'd rather invest your money in a cardio exercise machine than a gym membership, buying an elliptical is a smart choice. When you use an elliptical machine, you stand upright, place your feet on wide pedals, and grasp two moving handlebars. When you step on the pedals, they rotate in a circular (or elliptical) motion. Because models vary, it's important to arm yourself with information before shopping in order to make the right choice for your needs. Elliptical trainers range in price from around $1000 to around $3000, with the more expensive machines offering stronger construction and more features.
When buying an elliptical machine, you should first consider whether you want a front or rear drive unit. Front drive ellipticals feature plastic or metal tracks and rubber wheels to move them. Because the range of motion is flatter than rear drive machines, on which your heel comes up higher than your toe, you have to exert more effort and make longer strides to get a similar workout. While front drive machines can be more difficult to maintain and clean, they may be a better choice for the elderly or out of shape. If you choose a front drive machine, look for a 20-inch stride. This is the equivalent of an 18-inch stride on a rear drive machine.
Rear drive machines have a smoother feel, since the flywheel of the machine is behind you rather than in front of you. The handlebars are linked to the pedals, unlike a front drive trainer where they may be separated. This makes rear drive machines easier to maintain than front drive machines. If you're in good shape and looking for a challenging workout and smooth strides, a rear drive machine is probably your best bet. It will be necessary to clean and lubricate the wheels of the machine every week to keep the motion smooth.
If you have a lot of money to spend on a machine and want a high-end model with lots of features, look for an adjustable motion trainer. These machines have at least four levels, allowing you to customize your workout by adding resistance and incline as your physical fitness increases. Other advanced features include iPod docks and adjustable stride length.
Where you buy your elliptical trainer determines the type of machine you can get. Department stores, such as Sears and Walmart, sell lower-end machines. If you want a more advanced model, you'll need to visit a sports and fitness store. Checking out the machines at a fitness store first will allow you to ask questions of a salesperson who specializes in exercise equipment. This will help you determine whether you need a more advanced machine or a less expensive consumer model. Your best bet is to decide on the features you really like and those you can live without. Then, check the department store models to see if you can save money while still getting the workout you want.